Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Picture

Riding home a couple nights ago.




Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Mission Letter 10/29/2014

Hello, everybody!

I hope everyone's week-and-a-half has been going well! I know mine has, even though it's been a little long. 10 day weeks are long; you have no idea how much of an effect Preparation Day has on a full-time missionary, having a little bit of time to just relax, go do fun stuff, grocery shopping, cleaning the apartment, etc. But it's all completely worth it because today is temple day; in about 4 hours, I'll be going to the Taiwan Taipei Temple. I'm so excited because I haven't been inside it yet. I'm looking forward to it.

So, right now I'm in a tripanionship. You might remember my companion and I are over the Bali area, and because it's just being opened right now, they didn't have an apartment for us. So we were staying with the DanShui Elders, in their tiny apartment, a 45 minute bike ride away from where we normally work in Bali (but the bike ride is a beautiful ride along a river to the coast of Taiwan, so it's no problem there).

But last Friday was transfers, and one of the DanShui Elders just finished training, and so he got transferred away. Then, because the new missionaries who should have arrived this last transfer also have visa problems, they're out somewhere in America, and we're missing some missionaries. So throughout the Taipei Zones, a lot of people got put into tripanionships to fill the holes and keep areas open until the new missionaries arrive. These tripanionships included me.

But it's really weird; he's just tagging a long with us. The Mission Office told us he alone is still over DanShui, and we, the other two, are still over Bali. So they want him to as much as possible get member peike's (that's a member who accompanies you to things, would be the best English translation), and do splits all the time. That's hard, because no one has time here in Taiwan, people work so much. So, we're making it work; and really praying for the new missionaries to get their visas and be able to come here.

So, a few missionaries from the Taipei Zone were invited to participate in the Missionary Choir! This included me and a few others from this District. So every Preparation Day, we go down to downtown Taipei for Choir Practice. Then, throughout the end of November and all of December, we'll perform every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at a different ward, singing Christmas music in Chinese. I'll probably get to play a song on the piano, and maybe even conduct one! So much fun. And possibly play the organ in an Instrumental song, if we can get that figured out.

For the past 18 years, the ward that I'm serving has met in a rented hall in a building that wasn't owned by the church.  It was in a tiny little place, had a small kitchen, had pillars where they set up chairs for Sacrament meeting, and was just an overall tiny place. The baptismal font was what looked like a kiddy pool, with taller walls; they filled it up with a hose, and had to pump the water out of it after every baptism. It was this tiny, tarp and PVC contraption, that on several occasions had had a construction "failure" and flooded the church (because you took it apart after every baptism and then rebuilt it the next time).

But now, they finally have their own chapel. It's a beautiful church. They build churches very differently in Taiwan; because land is always rather small around here, they build on a small plot but very tall. For example, this church has a total of 7 floors, and has an elevator for all that. Underground in the basement is a basketball court, which has a tall ceiling which takes up most of the first floor. Floor 2 is the chapel, which also has a tall ceiling, thus taking up most of the 3rd floor. Floor 4 has the Relief Society and Primary room, Bishop and Clerk offices, and Floor 6 is the hot water, roof access, etc. It's one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen; I'll take a picture of the outside for next week's email.

We start meeting in it this Sunday. But last week after church, there was a church tour for the ward leaders (and missionaries). But it felt like half the ward showed up anyway (it's a pretty small ward). And they were so happy! It was kinda fun just watching them explore every nook and cranny of their very own, new church. Looking in all the closets, doors, kitchen, checking out the oven, bathrooms, classrooms, etc. They were just so happy! But so am I. It's a big church that would accomodate 3 wards, some day when we can convert enough people. Right now there's only one small ward here, but this church is just awesome.

 

A small thought about miracles. When I first got into the mission, I thought it was really weird, both in California and here in Taiwan, because all the missionaries would say stuff like, "Oh, then we ran into this person! It was such a miracle," or they'd have an idea and be like, "Ahh! Thank goodness for the Holy Ghost." And I felt like, "We just contacted him on the street." Or, "Well, I could have thought of that." But now when I think about it, their is a saying that I've heard somewhere, "You can either live life like everything is a miracle, or you can live life as though nothing is." And as you are surrounded by this, and things keep happening, you start saying, yes, these are miracles, yes, the Holy Ghost is giving me these thoughts.

We watched one video a few days ago during companionship study. It was Elder David A. Bednar's video, "Patterns of Light." He talks a lot about feeling and recognizing the Holy Ghost. He gives an example, of a man who one day thinks he doesn't have enough time to say his prayers, but then he might here in his mind his mother when he was a little boy saying, "Now don't forget to say your prayers." Elder Bednar says, this is of the Holy Ghost. Why have a miraculous sign or a different voice, when triggering this memory can have the same effect? The Holy Ghost will work through any method to get us to do right. I would highly recommend watching those videos; there are three of them, about 4 minutes long, and if you just search "Patterns of Light" on LDS.org, you'll find them.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful week! I know I will!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mission Letter 10/20/2014

Hello, everybody!

So, another week having 4 people in what really is a 2 person apartment! Hooray! Even though it's cramped, and I sleep on a couch that's shorter than I am tall, and my companion sleeps on the floor on a not-too-good pad, and we live out of suitcases, and have no shelves, and there's ONE stove in the whole place, we're having a blast, because it's just fun living in a 4 person apartment. We tell jokes almost every night before bed. It's been a blast.

But we're still looking forward to having an apartment in the city where I'll actually be serving because right now we travel 45 minutes on public transportation to get there, and 45 minutes to get home. So some days, like Sundays, we only have 1 hour in our area before we have to leave again. I also still don't have a bike, so we do lots and lots of walking.

Chinese is a difficult language.We went to church yesterday, and I understood about 2.243569% of what was happening. Yup. It's very hard to concentrate on what's happening when you don't know what's happening. It's weird; I've grown terribly accustomed to not knowing what people are saying or what's happening around me. Because I almost never know what's happening. Oh well, it will come.

It's still hard, because we technically have 4 investigators; 1 who came to General Conference but then didn't come to church this past week, one who since the first time we ran into her hasn't answered her phone or her door, despite our repeated attempts, one who canceled our first meeting, and another who we recently contacted but haven't met yet. So, interesting things are happening. "Opening" an area has its challenges, especially without bike or apartment (sadness!), but it's also a lot of fun. We're discovering a lot of things around the area; where some good places to eat are, where some markets are, where the good shaved ice is, and where we can't go. But it's just a beautiful area, next to a very wide "river" which is more like an inlet, because the tide comes in and out, and it's so close to the ocean, and we have a port, and we occasionally see big cargo vessels at the mouth of "the river."

Another little fun thing; we were supposed to have another transfer of missionaries come this week; they were the group just younger than me in the MTC, and we were in the MTC at the same time, and I actually saw a couple of them during the Priesthood Session of General Conference singing in the MTC Choir, but their visas are having problems, too. So our entire transfer is probably being delayed until they arrive, which could be sometime in November.

So, when I was doing my Personal Study the other day, I came across the scripture in the Book of Mormon which I've never quite noticed before; in Alma 37:

 44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
 45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

I had never viewed our journey through life and compared it to Lehi's family following the compass. But when you think about it, they had to have such great faith that this was a creation of God, leading them to a land of promise, that they had no idea existed or had any idea where it was; across a great ocean, with nothing familiar in sight. And they trusted the compass.

Likewise, we have the Words of Christ, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we put our faith in that it will, as Alma says, "carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise." And that's just a cool little comparison, maybe parable, I guess you would call it in English, and it also is something that emphasizes the importance of faith. Without faith, we really have nothing. So I just thought I'd share that scripture briefly.

By the way, next week and the week after are our mission temple days, so my Preparation Day may be changed to a Wednesday because of Temple attendance. So, if you don't get an email on the regular day, rest assured that I'm probably not dead.

Have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 12, 2014

10/13/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

Finally here in Taiwan, finished my 3 Day Orientation at the Mission Home, and I've been out in the field for almost a week. I've been assigned to the Dan Shui District (in English, it's translated to Tamsui, don't know how that happened), and my area is the Bali area. Me and my trainer are actually "opening" the area. It used to be part of the Dan Shui Elders area, but it's across a river, a pretty big area, and they don't actually make it over there very often. So they're opening it, and we've been assigned specifically to that area. So there's no apartment yet, and when we arrived, there were no investigators, either. But we've got one now, who we met on the street, and then taught a lesson to the next day, and then he came to General Conference, both the Sunday Sessions! Because here in Taiwan, they watch all the sessions together, with about a 10 minute break in between, and an hour at 12 noon for lunch.

So, because we had no investigators, we did a toooooonnnnnn of contacting, and still do. It's the only thing we can do, until we start getting some people we can teach lessons to. First, it takes about 45 minutes to get to our area by train and then by bus, even though we can see it across the river from our apartment. But, we have to take the train south, get on a bus that goes across the bridge and goes back north, and it just takes a while.

One challenge we face here is that, we'll try to talk to someone, and they'll say something like, "Oh, I'm baibai," and continue on, like, "thank you." And we'll be like yes, you're baibai, that's WHY we want to talk to you! Or, we'll find a Christian, and they'll be like, Oh, you're so good! God bless you, do a good job. I'm already Christian. Have a nice day! Everyone here seems to think that any/all religion is good, and it doesn't matter which one you're a part of, it's good. Which is true to an extent, I guess, but not completely true. So finding people can be a little bit of a challenge, sometime.

But a few funny stories now. Traffic here. Sometimes I watch it and then just start laughing, because there's absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. It's a food chain; buses first, followed by trucks, then cars, motorcycles, mopeds (of which there are billions), bicycles, and then pedestrians. Often, on just an extremely busy two lane road, a person will just stop, and then begins the exciting process of getting all the traffic of a two lane road, past each other in one lane. By the food chain, it's buses first. Because they'll just pull over to the opposing traffic side and go, and if you're in the way, you'd better stop, or he'll honk at you, because he ain't stopping. Most of the time, when letting people on and off, the bus doesn't even come to a complete stop; it's similar to a "California Roll" at a stop sign.Traffic lights here last about two minutes, so you can take a nap and recharge before the green light. I can't wait to have a bike. The mission office gives every missionary a green reflective belt type thing; it's not a vest, but you wear it like one. So we're very reflective at night. "Wear it with pride!" Sister Day said. It lovingly has, written by her, our name, and a drawn heart, to remind us that Sister Day is "always thinking about us," as the mission Mom.

One of my first days here, I heard the song... of a ice cream truck. Or so I thought. In Taipei City, I heard the song, and I thought, "well that's weird! I didn't know they had that here. I could totally go for some ice cream." No. Was I mistaken or what. A few days later, I saw one of these magical ice cream trucks; painted orange, little lights on top, slowing driving down the street, a man manning the back of the truck, all the Taiwanese people running into the street.... throwing their garbage away. It's totally a garbage truck, and because a lot of places don't have bins here, you're just at home, and when you hear the truck coming, you run outside with your garbage to throw it away. Yes, never thought I'd see that.

Food. We eat out about every meal, except for breakfast, but even for that sometimes. Because it is literally cheaper to eat out than to go to the grocery store. It's quite cheap here; we eat a pretty good Lunch and Dinner for about 5 US dollars per day, total. The food is really good, and some of it is really weird. There are so many kinds of tea here, that aren't actually tea, which gets confusing, and you have to make sure there's not actually tea in it, but they taste really... interesting, and take a little getting used to.

Elevators here eat people. They don't have sensors like American elevators, no; and because in Taiwan, it's so busy, every machine tries to move people as quickly as possible, the elevator door doesn't stay open that long. The close door button actually works, and there's a bar in the door; so if the door HITS you, then it will open back up again, but I've almost been eaten a couple times. It's actually quite humorous when someone gets squished by a door.

We watched General Conference here on a little laptop screen in English while the ward watched it projected onto the wall in Chinese. In the ward I'm serving in, there are 6 missionaries assigned to it now (used to be 4, until my companion and I showed up), Dan Shui Elders, Dan Shui Sisters, and then Bali Elders. Out of the 6 of us here, 3 of us are currently in Training (training is a 12 Week process), 1 from the previous transfer before me, and 2 from my transfer. The ward here meets in a rented building (which they've rented for over like, 10 years), and it's a very interesting building. But, yay! In about 3 weeks, the chapel for the area will be complete, and we'll move into there. Everyone is so excited to finally have our own building. All the chapels here look so grand, too; almost like temples.

So, General Conference. It was so cool that they had the native language talks! But one of the most impactful statements from General Conference, in my opinion, was the story where the lady thought, "Somebody must pay for this wrong!" And then the thought entered her head, "Somebody already has." That's one of the most important things that we can remember, because Jesus Christ has suffered for every injustice, every pain that we've endured, for everyone. Our job is to try to be perfect, to forgive everyone.

Being perfect is a pretty high standard. But it is achievable, according to the scriptures; Moroni 10:32 says, "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God." So, through Christ, in this life, we can be made perfect. This is what every person should strive for, because eternity is a lot longer than you think. It's our only purpose on this earth, it matters for eternity! That makes everything else in this earth seem just a little less important, because absolutely nothing else in the short 80 years of life we have (approximately, according to current statistics, right?) will affect infinity.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! Don't forget everything from Conference just yet!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 5, 2014

10/6/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

So, I literally had about 20 for emailing time today, of which 9 of those have been spent reading letters sent to me in an extremely hurried fashion (because for the past two weeks I have had around an hour and a half). So, this could be an extremely short email.

But at least it's from Taiwan! Yay! It's so exciting actually being here, it's such a wonderful place. And especially after the torturous long journey beginning with waking up at 2:45 AM, having a 24 minute flight followed by a 6 hour layover followed by a 12 hour flight followed by a 2 hour layover followed by a 3 hour flight. Long day, that was. But I don't have jet lag too bad, just a little sleepy at night (okay, extremely sleepy) and I wake up about 2 hours before I'm supposed to. One thing that was really cool about all the flights, though, was that by the time we were in Tokyo, all 30 of us from the MTC were together again on the flight to Taiwan.

So yesterday was our first full day here in Taiwan, something happened between the International Date Line and the entire series of flights. But all 30 of us were taken by the Temple Sisters (who serve in this area) and we went to Daan Park and went contacting with our temporary companions (we haven't met our trainers yet) for about an hour and a half. And the first thing I noticed, is that people here in Taiwan, who don't have all those preconceived notions about Mormons that a lot of Americans have, are so nice! Everyone will at least acknowledge your presence and will usually talk to you for a little bit. Everyone is extremely cordial, even traffic light crossing guards will make jokes and talk to you. So that's one thing that just makes me love this place even more.

This morning, for exercise, we ran to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (I think that's how it's spelt in English). It's this enormous, magnificent park, with this giant building in it, built for I guess you could say, a war hero. It's beautiful! The entire place is so beautiful! And the culture here is just really cool. All of us missionaries are just kinda taken aback, and still getting used to the fact that we're here in Taiwan.

So I'll leave the mission home with my trainer to go to my area tomorrow afternoon. Not long after that, I'll have my bike (so excited!). Everything here is just so amazing. I'm so happy to be here, and my Chinese is coming back a little bit, too. Because there is no option other than speaking it. In Church yesterday, though, understand extremely little. In Sunday School, the teacher was talking at about 7000 miles per hour, so about the extent of my understanding, that lesson was something about marriage.

So far here, we've eaten Ham and PB&J Sandwiches, Spaghetti, and Pancakes with bacon. Very authentic, traditional Taiwanese food. We ate all that at the mission home, but I think tonight they're taking us out for Taiwanese food. I'm so excited. 

Anyway. My time is completely up. Keep pushing forward in faith! I hope everything is well at home, because it sure is a lot of fun here!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Thursday, October 2, 2014

VISA ANNOUNCEMENT!

Hello, everybody!
 
So, last night at 9:30 PM, I was informed that my Visa for Taiwan has been approved and arrived. Today is my last day here in California; tonight I will be staying at the Zone Leader's house, and tomorrow morning I will be enroute to Taiwan (From San Francisco to LA, to Tokyo, to Taipei).
 
Serving here in the Carlsbad California Mission has been such a pleasure and such an amazing experience, and I've just barely gotten adjusted to it! I really enjoyed it here, but I'm so excited to now head out to Taiwan. So, my future emails will be from the other side of the Pacific Ocean!
 
Until then, have a great rest of your week!
 
Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg
Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net